A salty breeze swept the coastal landscape, with an overcast sky for company. Within minutes, the weather digressed from a balmy morning to searing heat, revealing a tenacious sun, as crisp as toast. First week of April, and summer is already kicking in its womb. There’s no escaping Goa’s heat now!
But as far as motorcycling is concerned, weather is no issue.
So I strapped my helmet on, swung a leg over the new ‘Roving Red’ Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350X and departed from the Royal Enfield’s Garage Cafe in Baga, with several riders for the One Ride event.
This year’s One Ride saw the new Thunderbird X rub shoulders with its cruiser cousin… ended with an amiable meeting and a brotherly pat on the back. Among a coterie of level-headed Bullets and haughty Himalayans, the Thunderbird X stood out with its grunge-tinged temperament, showing off its all-black mechanicals and a deep red-coloured fuel tank. More Gen-X, than millennial. More Cobain, than Bieber. But while it shares the same narrative and DNA of the classic Thunderbird, there’s more to it than what meets the eye.
A short ride around north Goa, and here’s our review of the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350X:
Launched in 2002 with an aluminium lean burning AVL 350cc drivetrain mated to a five-speed gearbox, the classic Thunderbird later received an engine upgrade with the Unit Construction Engine (UCE) in the 350cc and 500cc segment.
Over the years, it quickly became a definitive and affordable touring motorcycle. The bike also presented unique opportunities for customisation to its owners. It’s not too out of place then to believe that some Royal Enfield Thunderbird riders took leeways with their motorcycles: they traded thick, factory-fitted seats for thin ones, replaced their cruiser handlebars for lower and wider ones and ditched the pillion backrest for a profile that’s more low-slung and street-ready.
Most of all — and this is one feature that stands out the most — the all-blacked out rims, shockers and mechanicals is what they went for to complete the look.
In February this year, when Royal Enfield kitted out the new Thunderbird X with similar modifications, it was a kosher thought. A little late, but on point.
During the launch of the Thunderbird X variants in February in New Delhi, Royal Enfield had said the new bikes have been thought through with customisation in mind, given that the Thunderbird has always been very evocative among enthusiasts. “Royal Enfield wanted to make the custom feel available to more people without the effort,” President Rudratej (Rudy) Pratap Singh had said.
Rightly so, the Thunderbird 350X and 500X are just that: factory-fitted, customised bikes aimed at urban explorers who wish to take self-expression and exploration to a new level. For this segment, the brand says, motorcycling is not only for commuting but a larger lifestyle choice.
Thunderbird 350X riding impressions
The new bikes move away from the old-school cruiser style to a more modern and aesthetic motorcycle that’s unabashedly hipster.
It’s fairly easy to slip into a comfort zone with the Thunderbird X, given how the low, flat handlebar lets you whip it around in traffic. It’s also easier to reach, given this reviewer’s 5-foot-8 inch frame and yet there’s a slight natural bend of the elbows for a relaxed position. Because the front end is quite responsive and light, you drop your inhibitions and ride like a kid high on lucozade!
A change in the bike’s character also reflects on the new seat, which is comfortable enough for city riding, maybe not touring. We haven’t forgotten the super-comfortable seats of the classic Thunderbird though. There’s also attention to detail: the seat stitching mimics the colour of the fuel tank! While it may be a small imperceptible change, it surely is a well-thought out one.
The Thunderbird X has a similar mindset of its cruiser cousin, so the ride is very much sure-footed and it gives you enough confidence to embrace corners with ease. But lean too much and you will scrape your footpegs.
It’s also got the familiar pulling power of the Thunderbird 350, while being a sportier avatar. The torquey 346 cc engine churns out 19.8 bhp at 5,250 rpm and a maximum torque of 28 Nm at 4,000 rpm. But just like the classic Thunderbird, it doesn’t like being pushed too much through the gears as freely as you would like to. Anything above 90 kph, and the gnawing vibrations begin. Same story.
It also carries the same chassis and suspension of the classic Thunderbird, comfortable enough to pull you through potholes without being too hard on your back. No change here as well.
There’s a problem with the rear brakes though. On hard braking, the rear disc feels really stiff and takes time to kick in from speeds of over 90 kph. And the feedback between the front and rear disc will instill little confidence. Bummer for a brand new motorcycle! Plus, there’s no ABS on offer as well.
The overall ride was similar to a classic Thunderbird, albeit with a more sporty riding position.
Should you buy the new Thunderbird 350X?
The Thunderbird 350X, 500X are squarely aimed at Royal Enfield enthusiasts who dig the all-blacked out theme in a motorcycle, something they always wanted to incorporate in their own bikes but possibly couldn’t achieve. And bike customisation can burn a big hole in your pocket, passion doesn’t come cheap. So with these new motorcycles, Royal Enfield has dished out a customised motorcycle straight out of its factory.
The Thunderbird 350X is not a cruiser, make no mistake. But if short weekend getaways are your thing, you might want to plonk a more comfortable seat.
Before buying though, there are two questions you should ask yourself: Do you like the flat, lower handlebar of the Thunderbird X or the curved, longer handlebar of the classic Thunderbird?
Second, do you like the all-black treatment of the mechanicals mated with a bright coloured fuel tank or would you prefer a cleaner look?
If you have the answer, that decides it.
Overall, it’s a good deal at Rs 156,849 (ex-showroom Delhi), just a little over Rs 6,800 more than the classic Thunderbird 350 (Rs 1,50, 019 ex-showroom Delhi). With that bump in price, Royal Enfield is offering alloy wheels and tubeless tyres (a first), a fresh and clean look with contemporary colour options, a seat that’s geared more towards city riding and finally, my favourite feature, the all-black ‘grunge’ treatment of the mechanicals. I am thinking acid-washed pants, shoulder-length long hair, cropped stubble, and a casual nonchalance to match its demeanour. More Gen-X, than millennial. More Cobain, than Bieber!
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